There is widespread anger and disgust with the Union Budget presented by the Finance Minister on 1st February. With lakhs of jobs being lost, the masses of working families in the cities and countryside expected that the budget would address the burning issue of unemployment. The agricultural cess on various goods including on petrol and cooking gas has also dealt a heavy blow to working families.
Working class on the move
Trade unions representing the insurance and public sector banking sectors are planning to organise protests across the country this month, against the budgetary proposals. They are opposed to the proposal for privatisation in the insurance sector by increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) limit to 74% from 49% and for selling one insurance company and two public sector banks. The United Forum of Bank Unions (Maharashtra) has issued a call for a dharna on 23rd February.
The four labour codes – on Wages, Industrial Relations, Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) and Social Security – are scheduled to be implemented across the country latest by April this year. The Code on Wages, 2019, was passed by the Parliament in 2019, while the other three codes were referred to the Standing Committee on Labour. Subsequently, the Code on Social Security, Industrial Relations Code and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code were passed by the Centre last year in September.
Workers’ unions and organisations have been opposing the provisions in the codes on fixed-term employment, keeping smaller firms out of the purview of contract labour rules, and differential working hours for formal and informal workers. They have pointed out that the provisions of an eight-hour work day, permanent employment, and labour rights that were achieved after struggle would be taken away by the new labour codes. Already on 4th February, workers led by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) marched in the national capital, pressing the Delhi government not to implement the labour codes. Labour falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution and as such both the Parliament and the state legislatures can make laws relating to it.
The opposition to privatisation is intensifying across the country. Workers of the Vizag Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd.(RINL). Thousands of workers of the steel plant assembled at the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation office in Visakhapatnam on 5th February, and took out a protest rally. This was followed by a maha dharna at Andhra Pradesh’s Vijayawada city on 8th February, opposing the central government’s plans to privatise RINL. Trade unions are planning more state-wide protests against the privatisation, The Andhra Pradesh government is under pressure from the workers’ union to pass a resolution in the Assembly requesting the Centre to drop the proposal.
Workers at the Bharat Earth Movers Limited at Palakkad have also intensified their protests which began early in January against the central government’s move to privatize the strategic public sector undertaking. The workers formed a protest wall in front of the BEML plant and Instrumentation Ltd (IL) at Kanjikode on 10th February. Extending solidarity to the BEML employees, the Association of IT Employees in Palakkad also joined in the human fortress along with others on 17th February.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu witnessed huge demonstrations by state government employees and anganwadi workers for three consecutive days 2nd-4th February. They took to the streets against the government’s indifference over their long pending demands for filling up over 4.5 lakh vacancies in various departments, regularisation of around 3.5 lakh workers, withdrawal of action against 7,800 employees and reverting to the old pension scheme.
The anger of workers is mounting against the government, which has totally disregarded the crisis of unemployment and is planning wholesale privatisation and pushing anti-worker labour codes. On the one hand people’s incomes are falling drastically while on the other, prices of essential commodities are escalating, due to rising indirect taxes. The coming months are expected to see widespread protests against these anti-people moves.